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Since I began volunteering with Jolkona almost a year ago, I have learned a lot about the nonprofit sector, and how our team and partners are working to change the status quo of philanthropy. Jolkona has taught me that constant innovation is important not only to optimizing impact, but also to the process of democratizing philanthropy and bringing charity into the 21st century. And above all, Jolkona has shown me that anyone can be a philanthropist, regardless of income, age, or experience.

maddie pic“Philanthropist” can be a loaded term, bringing to mind major institutions like the Carnegie libraries, huge university and arts endowments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s millions. This point of view can be discouraging to those of us who don’t have those kinds of resources, and therefore feel like we can’t make a meaningful difference. But with its crowdfunding platform and one-to-one impact reports, Jolkona has shown me that even $10 can change someone’s life, especially when combined with other people’s donations and directed to a trustworthy cause.

According to a recent New Yorker article, philanthropy is a key area where global income inequality is particularly stark, and one where the heaviest hitters do little to alleviate that problem. The 85 wealthiest people in the world hold as much combined wealth as poorest half of the world. Though the top philanthropists are part of this remarkably tiny elite group, they do little to address poverty alleviation.

That isn’t to say that some of biggest philanthropists don’t support causes that aid the poor. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has set the goal to eradicate extreme poverty on a global level, saying that there will be no poor counties by 2035. However, a 2008 study on the giving behaviors of the wealthiest imply that this is more of an exception to the rule.  When it comes to giving to causes that address the needs of the poor, households that make $100,000 or less spend 36% of their charitable giving on causes that effect the poor. In contrast, households that make a million or more only spend 22% on poverty alleviation. The top recipients of funding are colleges and universities, hospitals and medical centers, and general foundations.

All this tells me is that changing the face of philanthropy means working from the bottom up. Jolkona’s strategies rely just on that, by making philanthropy more accessible not only to all who are passionate about making a difference, but also to small but efficient high-impact organizations that create huge amounts of change per dollar. By making informed giving accessible to those outside the economic elite, even a recent college graduate like me can say, “I am a philanthropist.”

With a high-impact donation and collective giving, every drop truly counts.

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Alicia Holmes has the distinction of being our first Give Together member who was completely new to Jolkona. Not only had she never donated through Jolkona.org before, but she doesn’t know anyone affiliated with us, she’s never attended one of our events, and she lives all the way across the country…

We couldn’t wait to hear her story!

Age:  30

Occupation:  Senior advisor for a healthcare and pharmacy innovation company

Location:  Massachusetts

How did you hear about Jolkona, and what made you want to contribute?

I saw an article [on LinkedIn] that described Jolkona’s philosophy and contribution model. The type of projects that Jolkona was targeting — small scale, material impact, varying causes — resonated with me. I like knowing that I didn’t just contribute X dollars to a particular city or country; I know that I helped purchase books for a local school or provide job-training for young women.
Jolkona strikes me as fresh and innovative. I was floored when I received an email from an actual person, Nicole, after signing up for Give Together online. No “do not reply — distribution only” emails. Real people who care about their work and the causes they support are the people behind this organization.

How did you hear about Give Together, and what inspired you to join?

After reading about the company, I learned more about Give Together on Jolkona’s website. It’s a practical, results driven program where you’re actually engaged in the act of giving and can witness the collective result as more people join the cause. It isn’t just an anonymous donation on a website.

How would you define “philanthropist?”

I think the term philanthropist sounds so formal that most people wouldn’t describe themselves as such, unless you actually are Bill or Melinda Gates. But in my mind, philanthrophy only requires that you look outside of yourself, your situation, and try to make a positive impact on humanity. There are many more philathropists walking around this world than we think.

What other causes do you support, and what kind of causes would you like to support in the future?

Veterans organizations have always been important to my family, as I come from a long line of service men and women. My father is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, and in their retirement, my parents have started a non-profit to provide respite for soldiers and their families. I guess I take a lot of cues from them.
Healthcare (especially nutrition and prevention) and education are at the top of my list as well. Those are just a few areas where you can do more than relieve an immediate need. You can support the development of skills that will be useful for a lifetime (and hopefully passed on to later generations). Small contributions are magnified in that way.

What would you say to encourage others to donate to projects through Jolkona or elsewhere?

If you want to make an impact, if you want to know where and how your dollars are being used to help others and make the world a little more liveable, this is where you start.

Thanks Alicia!

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When Jolkona’s Give Together monthly philanthropy program launched this summer, we never expected that one of our most enthusiastic members would be participating from 8,000 miles away! Meet Andrew Varvel, in his own words:

Andrew Varvel

Age: 25

Occupation:  Studio technical director for a television station

Location: Sydney, Australia

How did you hear about Jolkona, and what made you want to contribute?

After giving for a number of years through child sponsorship, I became disheartened by the lack of transparency and the increasing marketing budgets of the charities. I began researching charities and giving online and after a few weeks, I discovered Jolkona as an organisation where I could be certain my ‘small’ donation would have a guaranteed impact.

Jolkona is a highly innovative charity that has changed the way I think about giving and supporting ‘good causes.’ They have a fantastic team and a great set of values – I’m excited to see Jolkona celebrate its fifth birthday and I look forward to what amazing things they can achieve over the next five years.

How did you hear about Give Together and what inspired you to join?

I have been supporting for Jolkona for just over a year and I was contacted about the new Give Together program. I was keen to support the new initiative and pre-committing a monthly amount to donate whilst still having some freedom to choose what projects to donate to.

How would you define “philanthropist?”

A philanthropist is simply someone who gives a damn and generously donates money and time to support good causes. I think it’s important to remember that anyone can be a philanthropist — it doesn’t matter how little or how much you donate, you can still make a positive impact on others in this world. It’s easy to feel that a small donation doesn’t make a difference in a world where governments and generous wealthy individuals donate hundreds of millions of dollars to worthy causes — but through places like Jolkona, you can be assured your donation does have impact.

For example, through Give Direct, for just $200 dollars you can provide a personalised prosthetic leg to a land mine victim in Burma. It’s pretty cool to think about how much better that person’s life will be once they have a prosthetic. Things like that excite me and encourage me. You can even have a real impact for $20 or less.

What other causes do you support, and what kind of causes would you like to support in the future?

I currently only support causes through Jolkona, but I’m particularly passionate about health & education projects. Health projects are exciting as they can have an immediate impact on an individual or community that can literally save their lives in some cases. I also love supporting educational causes as I think that education is a key driver for unlocking a country’s economic growth.

What would you say to encourage others to donate to projects through Jolkona or elsewhere?

Charity isn’t about how much you donate each year. It’s about what impact you want to have on the world. What do you care about? What do you want to make better? Your money will have a different amount of impact depending on the charity you choose.

When you donate through Jolkona, you’ll know your generous donation will be spent wisely, you’ll know the impact of your donation and you’ll be part of a strong community making the world better one small donation at a time.

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

We need some more Jolkona donors in Australia! Get on board!

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While observing Ramadan last month, Asim Khan, 36, decided to contribute his zakat – Muslim charitable giving – to Jolkona’s Give Direct projects in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Welcome to the Jolkona community, Asim, and tell us a little about yourself!

asim_pic_bw

Occupation:  CEO, Event Blossom

Location: North Tustin, CA

Hobbies: Weight training, surfing, basketball

Volunteering: President of NAASER – charitable organization that gives relief to the needy in Bhopal, India; former president of the Islamic Center of Irvine.

Skills: Public speaking, persuasion, competitiveness, impersonating Keanu Reeves…

How did you hear about these Jolkona projects?

My brother went to UCLA with [Jolkona CEO] Nadia, and we have mutual friends. I have always thought it was fantastic that she and Adnan have dedicated so much of their lives to giving back to those that need it.  I try to do what I can in my capacity, and have always admired those that help others. The idea of being able to directly change people’s lives by way of micro-financing really caught my eye. I carefully pick organizations that I choose to contribute to, and am happy to be in a position to help… the little I can. In some parts of the world, even small donations from here can make a big impact.

What’s  your impression of Jolkona?

It is amazing to see how far Jolkona has come in such a short time. The level of professionalism, and the amount they are able to accomplish is a bounty to the many that they affect. I guess I fit one of their core values, they have inspired a young professional like me to become a better philanthropist and provided me with an avenue to do so.

How would you define “philanthropist?”

It’s embarrassing to me to be referred to as a philanthropist… but if I must answer, I’d say “someone that has more than he needs and gives to those that need it more than him.”  But it’s more than transactional. Giving is something more innate, more spiritual. A favorite quote of mine from Rumi that has become my personal mantra is, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

What other causes do you support?

Event Blossom was set up from the get-go to give a percentage of profits back to causes that are in need. In the past year, our charitable donations have ranged from Hurricane Sandy relief, to sponsoring orphans around the globe. One of our favorite projects in the past few years has been setting up a Banana Cultivation Project in Sri Lanka. The profits from this project provide regular income that directly supports a local orphanage which houses, educates, and creates opportunity for orphans.  Here are a few pics of the project breaking ground:
bananacultivation

What would you say to encourage others to become philanthropists?

Not everyone is dealt the same hand when it comes to life. You may have earned it, or you may have been born with it, but I’m fairly certain a good amount of has attributed to any successes you have had. By giving back by donating, you are really doing the least you can do.  There isn’t really hard work involved with giving, the hard work is wrestling the money out of your hands.
But money isn’t everything. Happiness is. And there is no greater joy that you can get out of life than helping others.
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